SERMON ~ 05/07/2023 ~ “Believe in God”

05/07/2023 ~ Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Believe in God

Jesus said: “Have faith in God; have faith in me as well.” — John 14:1b

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a member of All Angels’ Episcopal Church in New York City. This church called one of the first women officially ordained as a priest in that denomination, Carol Anderson, to be their rector. Priest— that’s Episcopal talk for pastor; rector— that’s Episcopal talk for settled pastor.

I think of Carol as one of my mentors in ministry, someone who pointed me on an eventual path toward ordination. Mind you, many, many years passed until that happened. This story is about the first meeting I had with Carol.

It being All Angels’ Church, in the corner of her office was a really big wood sculpture of an angel tooting on an outsized trumpet. After some chitchat Carol leaned forward and earnestly said, “So tell me Joe, when are you going to become a priest?”

I looked over my shoulder to see if someone else named Joe had come into the room. All I saw was the wood angel. It stared back at me. It said nothing.

After seven years at that church Carol moved on and started the Institute for Clergy Renewal. As the name says, it was for clergy who need a time of renewal. Why?

Clergy burnout happens way more often than people realize. At the institute clergy worked with Carol to try to rediscover themselves and explore the basis of their ministry.

In large part, she established this Institute because of her experience, what she had seen happen to clergy. When she was in college in the ’60s, Carol did what many college students in those tumultuous times did, headed South and took part in Civil Rights protests, marches, work.

When she joined those protests, marches, that work, Carol saw what happened to some clergy— burnout. Then she, herself, heard a call to ministry and entered Harvard Divinity School.

Let me unpack that journey for you. It was good for Carol to join the work of justice in the South, good to be among those working toward justice for all people. It is good for the soul of anyone to get involved in working toward justice.

This work also helped Carol realize a deeper but simple question needs to first be asked— ‘why?’ What is the reason one might want to take part in working toward justice? Why get behind any cause which works toward justice?

Carol started the Institute to help other clergy discover the ‘why’ of justice. She realized many clergy get involved in a cause just for its own sake. That’s a mistake.

To take a stand for justice is a good thing. The work is necessary. But after a while, people who take stands without thinking them through, especially clergy, are in danger of just… burning… out.

In short, some clergy get involved without remembering why. They support causes but forget there is a Christian basis to seek justice. And here’s the deep truth people forget: if you trust God and seek the heart of God, you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the Gospel according to the School of John— Jesus said: “Have faith in God; have faith in me as well.” (Slight pause.)

There’s no question about this: the Gospel we call John was written last among the four. As such, it displays what scholars call— here’s that term you heard me use just last week— what scholars call a “high Christology.”

The word ‘high’ tied to Christology indicates Jesus is more God-like in John’s Gospel than in the others. This reading both separates and intertwines God and Jesus.

About the fourth century the church defines the relationships of Abba, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Again, you heard me say this last week: the church proclaims God, Jesus and the Spirit are Trinity, are one but at the same time are three.

In her retreat work with clergy Carol encouraged them to ask and to answer for themselves how they understood the nature of God. Why ask that?

Unless a concern for justice has a basis in theology, a way to see God and to seek the will of God, burnout often happens. (Slight pause.) And let me say it once again: if you trust God and look for the heart of God you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

Once, when I needed to be away one Sunday from Norwich, that church I served for many years, a member of the laity preached. Her sermon title was The Dash— the dash engraved on a tombstone, the time between the dates of birth and death.

The real topic of the sermon was ‘what do we do with our time?’ Do we use our time to do what we can to forward the Realm of God, be empowered to do the work of transforming the world to be a place where love and justice abound? (Slight pause.) If you trust God and look for the heart of God and you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

I want to say one more thing about Carol. As I indicated, she was among the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. She was, therefore, painfully aware of how privileged she was.

She was aware of that because she knew for two millennia Christian women had heard the call to ordination. That call was ignored by churches. It still is ignored by some.

But what Carol also understood is Who was calling— Carol understood Who was calling. She realized if getting ordained was simply a matter of her working for justice— in this case the cause of rights for women, and had she concentrated on that only— she probably would have burned out long before the church had allowed for the ordination of women. But because she concentrated on and was grounded in Who was calling her, that sustained her.

In short, Carol understood trusting God, Jesus and the Spirit is central. And perhaps the justice God calls us to seek will not and often does not conform to our personal timetable. But yet, we still need to trust and to know justice resides in heart of God. (Slight pause.)

So, why do we, the people of Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell, Maine, gather as a church, come here on a Sunday? You will hear a lot of answers to that question.

The music is great. The outreach is fruitful. Many enjoy just being with the people here. Have you seen the worship space? It’s beautiful. These are all good reasons. They are all true.

But if trusting God, trusting Jesus, trusting the Spirit is not central, it needs to be. (Slight pause.) Here’s my take: if we first trust God and thereby seek the heart of God, that is what makes the people of this church, any church, truly be church. (Slight pause.)

Trusting God, trusting the heart of God, is necessary if the ministry of a church is to be empowered. Indeed, I say trusting God needs to be central to what we, at the Kellogg Church, do to in order truly be church. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “One more Carol Anderson story: at seminary she once marched into the dean’s office and announced she was dropping out. The dean told her to think and pray about it for three days, then come back. If she still wanted to leave he would bless that decision. Frustrated, she went to the Charles River and hurled her Bible as far as she could into the water. After three days of prayer and thought, still undecided, she returned to the river just before she was about to go see the dean again. There, washed up on the shore, was her waterlogged Bible. She scooped it up, laughed and went to see the dean. She stayed in seminary. She still has that Bible. Trust God.”

BENEDICTION: Jesus assures us we will be empowered to do great works. We are, in fact, representatives of Christ, as we share the gifts God has granted us. And may the love of God the creator which is real, the Peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding and the companionship of the Holy Spirit which is ever present, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge of God and in the care of God this day and forever more. Amen.

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